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The Education Year in Review -- 2014-2015


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Legislative Issues

Illinois Education

The Federal Scene

Significant Developments

Awards and Honors

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

The Illinois General Assembly met its May 31 scheduled adjournment date. The Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which did not include revenue from extension of the existing income tax rates, was approved by the House of Representatives in the final week of the session. It called for a “flat budget,” one generally funding state programs (including education) at the same levels as in FY 2014.

The appropriations for elementary and secondary education included transportation reimbursements, bilingual education, and early childhood education, all funded at FY 2014 levels. Additional new funding was dedicated to the General State Aid formula in order to maintain the per pupil foundation level proration at approximately 89%. The education budget (HB 6093) fully funded the assessment budgetary line item to provide funding for the ACT examination.

Incumbent Governor Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) was defeated in November 2015 by political newcomer Bruce Rauner (R-Winnetka). Rauner, a businessman who had never held elected office, was sworn into office in January. Easily carrying the vote in most of downstate, Rauner also made modest inroads into gaining Chicago and suburban Cook County votes.

A bill to revamp school funding, SB 16 (Manar, D-Bunker Hill), designed to revise the formula of how elementary and secondary education funds are distributed, was left over to be studied over the summer by the House of Representatives. The bill passed the Senate at the spring session’s end, but the House, largely uninvolved in the issue over the previous year, did not appoint members to participate in the funding committee. Thus, the additional time was needed to review the plan, according to a House spokesman.

A school construction funding bill, HB 3793 (Currie, D-Chicago), was sent to the governor along with the funding change legislation. The capital spending bill contained appropriations for projects that would not require bonding. Approximately $200 million from the General Revenue Fund was to be included. The bill appropriated $54 million dollars to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) for school maintenance grants. It also appropriated $50 million for the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund and $35 million for school construction in the Chicago Public Schools system. Meanwhile SB 3224 (Hutchison, D-Chicago Heights) provided the requisite bonding and spending authorization for the capital projects bill (HB 3794). It contained a $600 million increase in the state's General Obligation Transportation Bond Series for "shovel-ready" road projects.

BILL ACTION

The governor signed a number of significant new education-related bills into law, including:

HB 105 (Currie, D-Chicago) makes changes to the Illinois Election Code, including: language for the minimum wage increase referendum; it also allows for same-day voter registration; extends the times for early voting and absentee voting; and makes other changes. For school districts, it includes clean-up language affecting schools that clarifies the process for simultaneous filing of nominating petitions now that the county clerk will be accepting the petitions. It also makes a clarification regarding the filing of certificates of nomination and nomination papers with the election authority (county clerk in most counties) where the principal office of the school district is located and states that the filing period would remain no more than 113 nor less than 106 days before the consolidated election. The bill is now Public Act 98-0691, effective Jul. 1, 2014.

HB 3724 (Burke, D., D-Chicago) requires training on how to properly administer Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator to be included in high school health education classes. The bill is now Public Act 98-0632, effective Jul. 1, 2014.

HB 3939 (Jackson, Sr., D-East St. Louis) makes changes to the Educational Opportunity for Military Children Act, including allowing children of active duty military personnel to transfer tuition free to a non-resident school when placed with a non-custodial parent and be placed in grades and courses they were in at their last school until school administrators can verify placement, allowing receiving school to perform evaluations. The bill is now Public Act 98-0673, effective Jun. 30, 2014.

HB 4440 (Chapa La Via, D-Aurora) provides that not less than 14% (instead of 11%) of the Early Childhood Education Block Grant shall be used to fund programs for children ages 0-3, but stipulates that the percentage will increase to at least 20% by Fiscal Year 2016 (instead of 2015). The bill is now Public Act 98-0645, effective Jul. 1, 2014.

HB 4527 (Chapa La Via) requires a charter school to comply with all federal and state laws and rules applicable to public schools that pertain to special education and the instruction of English language learners. The bill is now Public Act 98-0639, effective Jun. 9, 2014.

HB 4591 ( Martwick, D-Norridge) provides that if a charter school dismisses a pupil from the charter school it shall return to the school district an amount equal to 100% of the school district’s per capita student tuition, on a pro rata basis, for the time the student is not enrolled at the charter school. The bill is now Public Act: 98-0640, effective Jun. 9, 2014.

HB 4767 (Chapa La Via) makes changes to the Alternative Route to Teacher Certification programs, including that no one may be admitted to the program after Sep. 1, 2014. The bill is now Public Act 98-0688 effective Jun. 30, 2014.

HB 5393 ( McAsey, D-Lockport) , under the “Teaching Excellence Program,” removes the priority order for funding of various programs. In addition, it provides that funds may be used for instructional leadership training for educators supporting implementation of the Illinois Learning Standards and/or teaching and learning priorities of ISBE. The bill is now Public Act 98-0646, effective Jul. 1, 2014.

HB 5546 (Chapa La Via) provides for limited recall for certain tenured teachers who were in “Group 2” because of receiving a “needs improvement” on the latest teacher evaluation and who have been part of a reduction in force provided the other evaluation used for determining the reduction in force list is a “satisfactory”, “proficient” or  “excellent”. It also allows a school district to use, on a district-wide basis and at the school district’s sole cost and expense, an alternate survey of learning conditions instrument pre-approved by the State Superintendent, instead of the Five Essentials Survey used by ISBE. The bill is now Public Act 98-0648, effective Jul. 1, 2014.

HB 5707 (Cassidy, D-Chicago) adds criteria to what is required for a school’s “Policy on Bullying” including: reporting bullying, procedures for including restorative measures, procedures for prompt investigation, interventions, engagement of school stakeholders, posting the policy, and an evaluation process to assess the outcomes and effectiveness of the policy. The bill is now Public Act 98-0669, effective Jun. 26, 2014.

HB 5716 ( Brauer, R-Petersburg) encourages school districts to make a school building’s emergency and crisis response plan available to first responders, administrators and teachers electronically when updating the plan. The bill is now Public Act 98-0661, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

SB 220 ( Kotowski, D-Park Ridge) is the budget implementation bill that contains the substantive language to implement the FY ’15 state budget. The Act diverts an additional $20 million from the Corporate Personal Property Replacement Tax (CPPRT) by adding another group of county employees that will be paid from these local government and school district revenues. It also requires school districts to pick up $85 million of the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) obligation for employees paid with federal funds. In August 2013 the TRS board chose to lower the school district’s rate to 7.4% from the FY 2014 level of 35.41% citing (among several reasons) the state’s continued underfunding of the pension system as the cause for this exponential increase. SB 220 would reverse this action and force local school districts to again pick up the cost. The bill is now Public Act 98-0674, effective Jun. 30, 2014.

SB 2747 ( Bivins, R-Dixon) creates the School Security and Standards Task Force within ISBE to study the security of schools, make recommendations, and draft minimum standards for use by schools to make them more secure. The bill is now Public Act 98-0695, effective Jul. 3, 2014.

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ILLINOIS EDUCATION

State Board of Education Developments

May 2015 – The Illinois State Board of Education announces it will be led by a new State Superintendent of Education effective May 1. Gov. Bruce Rauner has been making sweeping changes to the state board since he took office in January. He earlier picked former state Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, to serve as board chairman. The governor tabbed Anthony Smith to lead the 500-person agency. “The board selected Tony Smith for his proven track record of accomplishment and leadership in education,” said Meeks. “We know that Dr. Smith will move forward to improve and expand on the agency’s initiatives to improve teaching and learning on behalf of the more than 2 million kindergarten through 12th-graders in Illinois public schools.”

February 2015 – Revised Illinois Learning Standards for Physical Development and Health are ready for implementation, the state announces. During the 2014-15 school year, districts are planning for and phasing in implementation of the standards to be ready for full implementation in the 2015-16 academic year.

January 2015 – Illinois districts are piloting state-developed model math units to help students master key concepts just as schools implement internationally benchmarked learning standards. The math standards emphasize depth of knowledge, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, according to ISBE. The nationally-recognized units are the first of their kind, developed by a statewide team of educators following legislation that called for more math resources and support. The models are on ISBE’s website at http://www.isbe.net/common_core/htmls/math-model-units.htm .

October 2014 – Illinois Advanced Placement (AP) participation continues to outpace the national average and the percentage of Hispanic test takers in 2014 exceeds the percentage of Hispanic students overall. A record number of Illinois students took the exams and excelled. Illinois’ Hispanic and African American student participation in the AP tests exceeded the national average. Statewide, 23.5 percent of Illinois’ public high school 11 th and 12 th graders took at least one AP Exam in 2014, up from 10.5 percent a decade earlier.

September 2014 – A new state initiative aims to recognize student mastery in two or more languages. Illinois is among the first states to allow school districts to award a “State Seal of Biliteracy” to students who demonstrate a high level of proficiency in one or more languages, in addition to English. The seal would be placed on a student’s academic transcript and diploma. The seal would provide evidence of language literacy achievements to future employers and college admissions offices. The program is optional for districts.

July 2014 –The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announces that the Education Commission of the States (ECS) had recently recognized the state agency for its new State Report Card, which shares information about schools’ challenges and successes. Illinois’ redesigned report card, which can be found at www.illinoisreportcard.com, was ranked as the top one in the nation by researchers and parents. Illinois was the only state to receive such recognition. The research report, “ Rating States, Grading Schools: What Parents and Experts Say States Should Consider to Make Accountability Systems Meaningful,” measures the accessibility, ease of understanding, and adequacy of the report card data.

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THE FEDERAL SCENE

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made a sharp turn in the summer of 2014 to support broadband installation in schools with E-rate funds. As a result, school districts that had not participated in the E-rate program found themselves eligible for major federal funding and current beneficiaries found many changes in the program for FY 2015.

Some of the E-rate changes:

  • Applications from consortia were reviewed faster than those from individual schools and districts.
  • Bulk purchasing power: The FCC created “preferred master contracts” and authorized purchasing through the federal General Services Administration (GSA) for better pricing.
  • Less paperwork: Applicants were no longer required to have technology plans in order to qualify for E-rate.
  • Even less paperwork: An online portal and electronic filing made it easier to apply.  

Other changes of note

Category 1 (Internet access): Funding for Internet connections to school buildings remained a priority.

Category 2 (Internal connections): The FCC approved two big changes in the way internal connections were funded in order to get broadband into classrooms. Category 2 included such items as routers, switches, wireless access points, internal cabling, racks, wireless controller systems, firewall services, uninterruptable power supply, and related software.

Designated funding: As part of the pivot to broadband, the FCC designated $1 billion annually for internal connections—but only for broadband distribution services and equipment. For FY 2015 there was no funding at all for Category 2 services, so the change infused new funding to districts that needed it.

New funding method: The other major change to Category 2 is the distribution method. E-rate historically provided support based on the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch, and Category 1 services would continue to be distributed this way. For Category 2 funds, however, the FCC approved a two-year test program that distributed funds on a per-student basis of $150 per pupil.

As a result, school districts that had not been eligible for Category 2 funding in the past found themselves eligible for per-student funding. At the same time, current beneficiaries received less support. The FCC vowed evaluate the results after two years to determine whether the per-student distribution method would continue.

While broadband is an exciting development for schools and libraries, it is not without a downside. The FCC modernization plan does not include additional funding for E-rate. In order to redirect resources to broadband, the FCC eliminated support for older “legacy” services that many districts had come to rely upon.

NSBA urges the FCC to “do no harm” to schools under E-rate modernization, and advocates for a permanent increase in funding.

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SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENTS

July 2014 – A new video from IASB made available on YouTube explained recently enacted legislative changes to school election procedures. The school board secretary’s election responsibilities were significantly reduced, and the school board president was given no election responsibilities for school board elections, beginning with the April 2015 voting. Answers to frequently asked questions about the changes to school election procedures were produced to allow viewers to follow along with the video. The FAQ file was prepared by Melinda Selbee, IASB General Counsel, and Alan Mullins, Scariano, Himes & Petrarca, Chtd.

August 2014 – Invitations were sent out by IASB for an August new superintendent luncheon event. The aim was to welcome new top administrators and explain about IASB’s resources, services, and training. The luncheon was held August 13 at IASB offices in Lombard.

September 2014 – A new bullying prevention course was up and running on IASB’s Online Learning Center. The new course, “Bullying Prevention: the Board’s Role,” focused on pertinent law concerning bullying prevention as it applied to schools. This course described the school board’s legal responsibility concerning the prevention of, and appropriate responses to, student-on-student bullying and harassment. Fact scenarios developed by the IASB legal staff guided participants through the key aspects of their duties in an evolving area of school law. The OLC itself had a more up-to-date look after an overhaul, and became easier to use for any of the seven online courses offered.

October 2014 – In conjunction with its “Stand Up 4 Public Schools” campaign, IASB launched its Association Facebook and Twitter pages. To find the pages on Facebook, users were asked to search Illinois Association of School Boards, and on Twitter @ILschoolboards. Meanwhile it was announced that participants could “like” and follow both pages, and share them with colleagues and public education advocates, and follow IASB during the 2014 Joint Annual Conference for live updates from Chicago.

November 2014 – Eighteen school boards were recognized as recipients of IASB’s fourth annual “School Board Governance Recognition.” The award was designed to acknowledge school boards that had engaged in activities and modeled behaviors leading to excellence in local school governance in support of quality public education. Successful applicants were presented with plaques at the fall division meetings, and their board pictures were on display at the IASB Information Room at the 2014 Joint Annual Conference.   The application for recognition asked school boards to explain how they were meeting IASB’s six Foundational Principles of Effective Governance. The primary focus of the program remained on full board development and participation rather than individual board member efforts.

December 2014 – IASB announced a winter workshop titled “Connecting with the Community: The Board’s Role and Work in Community Engagement.” The regional workshop at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville was designed to help school boards engage in ongoing conversations with their communities, one of IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance.

January 2015 –IASB mailed out the newly updated IASB Constitution and Position Statements booklet to all member district board members and superintendents. As always, both the Constitution and position statements were products of the IASB Delegate Assembly, which continued to meet annually at conference. IASB continued to operate within the framework of its Constitution, and lobbied on behalf of its position statements, which reflect the beliefs, aspirations and aims of the association as established by its member school boards.

February 2015 – School officials had an opportunity to engage Illinois lawmakers, particularly at a legislative reception, and to learn new skills to lead public education in their communities at the first-ever Alliance Leadership Summit on February 17-18 in Springfield. The two-day event focused on the future of public education in Illinois, with an emphasis on “Vision 20/20,” the Alliance’s grassroots-produced legislative initiative to fulfill public education’s promise. The summit featured public education advocates offering presentations on Vision 20/20 and focusing on the four pillars of that long-range plan. Executive Directors of the Alliance organizations joined in panel discussion of legislative hot topics.

March 2015 – IASB, Illinois ASBO, and IASA filed an Amici brief supporting CHSD 155, Crystal Lake, in a zoning case pending before the Illinois Supreme Court, one that arose over a dispute over athletic-field bleachers. The school management associations’ brief argued that subjecting school buildings and ancillary structures to unfettered local zoning and land use regulations would frustrate and impede the ability of school districts to implement the statewide mission of providing high-quality public education. The brief noted that many Illinois school districts serve multiple municipalities, yet a zoning decision by just one municipal council could conceivably overturn the intent of building referendum adopted by an entire school district.

April 2015 – Regional workshops for new board members were announced, scheduled at 20 locations around the state, beginning May 8-9. These two-day training events were offered as one-day mandatory board training sessions on Fridays, and one-day Basics of Governance sessions on Saturdays, with a discount for registrants attending both days. Attendees on Friday received: Professional Development Leadership Training, including four hours of instruction in education and labor law, financial oversight and accountability, fiduciary responsibilities, and more. IASB was the only training provider offering all the mandated training content in one day. Basics of Governance attendees on Saturdays learned board and board-member roles and responsibilities.

May 2015 – IASB announced that the Illinois School Board Newsbulletin would no longer be published in an e-mail newsletter format. Its content was redesigned as an online blog, appearing on the top of the IASB website. The purpose was to allow IASB to reach more members and to allow timelier reporting of education events and issues. The first Newsbulletin was published in November 1943 and had been continuously published ever since. Until July 2011, the Newsbulletin was a monthly print publication. At that time it became an e-mail newsletter, with text and PDF versions posted online. The news blog became part of IASB’s social media strategy, which also included Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube sites.

June 2015 – The Illinois School Board Journal examined the unique challenges faced by rural and small school districts in Illinois, and offered insight into how school leaders were meeting those challenges. “Being Rural” included articles from one superintendent who made a case that rural schools provide not only quality of education, but also quality of life to the communities they serve. The Consortium of Rural Research Group offered a voice to small and rural schools with a survey and reports on its findings. In the northwestern Illinois villages of Hanover and Elizabeth, unused school buildings became valued community resources after reorganization in the 1980s.

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AWARDS AND HONORS

Thomas Lay Burroughs Award. Dave Dickson of Grant Park CUSD 6 was the 2014 recipient of the Thomas Lay Burroughs Award, which annually honors an outstanding school board president in the state. Dickson had served five years as president of his local school board and more than eight years on the board. Grant Park High School testing performance increased 23 percent between 2011 and 2013, earning the state (ISBE) 2013 Academic Improvement Award for exemplary gains in performance. “This is not just an award for me, but an award for the entire district, which makes me extremely proud,” said Dickson. An education attorney in Indiana, he maintains that all students of Grant Park deserve and require the best leadership and instruction available, thus he promotes educational opportunities and motivates staff to stay compassionate and committed to students. The award is presented annually by the Illinois State Board of Education to local school board presidents who have shown outstanding leadership on behalf of improved student learning, educational excellence, equal opportunity, and crisis resolution. The award is named in honor of the late chairman of the State Board of Education.

Superintendent of the Year. Thomas Bertrand, district superintendent at Rochester CUSD 3A, was honored during the third general session of the Conference as the 2015 Illinois Superintendent of the Year. Chosen annually by the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the award was presented Nov. 23, 2014 in Chicago. Bertrand had been an educator for 28 years at the time of the award, serving as a teacher, coach, principal, and assistant superintendent before accepting the position as Rochester superintendent in 2002. He had spent the previous 13 years as superintendent of Rochester CUSD 3A. “I look at this as recognition for our schools and our community. Our board, staff and our teachers are all marching to the same beat,” said Bertrand in accepting the award. “Kids first, high expectations, and continuous improvement,” are the guiding goals that Thomas Bertrand referenced when speaking to the success at the Rochester school district. IASA President Scott Kuffel introduced Bertrand by speaking about his impressive accomplishments.

Cole Awards. Sixteen newspapers received awards in the annual Robert M. Cole Awards competition for 2014, including first-place winners in five divisions, based on size of newspaper circulation. The Cole Awards are sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Boards and conducted by the Illinois Press Association. There were 19 entries in this, the 34th year for the Cole Awards program. First-place award winners were: Belleville News-Democrat, large daily division; Effingham Daily News, mid-size daily division; The Doings, Hinsdale, large weekly division; Kendall County Record, Yorkville, mid-size weekly division; and Coal City Courant, small weekly division. Named in memory of the first full-time executive director of IASB, the Robert M. Cole Award recognizes outstanding coverage of education issues that emphasizes the community’s connection with its local public school district. Winners were announced Friday, June 13, at the annual convention of the Illinois Press Association in Springfield.

Those Who Excel. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) singled out four individual school board members and one entire school board for outstanding service to schools in the 40th annual Those Who Excel/Teacher of the Year banquet, held Oct. 25 in Normal. Receiving the award were board members: Patty Reyes, Merit, Bensenville Elementary SD 2; John Rouleau, Merit, Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96, Buffalo Grove; Edward Smith, Excellence, Oregon CUSD 220; David Sherwood, Excellence, Washington District 50. In addition, the entire board of education of Hazel Crest School District 152.5 won the Award of Merit for its exemplary work as a team. Local school district leaders and members of school communities nominate the award candidates. The nomination includes a brief nominee biography, professional development, community involvement and a description of his or her philosophy on education and views on the state’s most pressing educational needs. Letters of recommendation are also required. A committee of peers, organized through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), chooses the award winners. The committee represents statewide education organizations and includes former award winners. A complete list of award recipients by county can be found online at: http://www.isbe.net/those-who-excel/2015/Those-Who-Excel-2014-15.pdf .

Holly Jack Award. Mary Lou Sender, administrative assistant to the superintendent and board of Wheaton Warrenville CUSD 200, was named the sixth annual recipient of the Holly Jack Outstanding Service Award at the 2014 Conference. “In the school community, we face very high demands with few resources. Our kids deserve the best every day, and it is our duty to make sure that happens,” Sender said. The Holly Jack Award recognizes this demanding work of school district and board secretaries. Nominees must demonstrate performance, initiative, innovation, staff development, self-improvement, passion for public education, and dedication. Letters of support are also accepted. District 200 Superintendent Jeff Schuler and school board members nominated Sender for the award, referring to her work for the district as “inspiring.” Sender had a special connection to IASB and the award namesake. A friend of Holly Jack, Sender years ago voiced her concern about the lack of profession development available for board secretaries and public school administrative assistants. She encouraged IASB to recognize the need for quality training opportunities and became one of the founding members of the secretary’s program that is now featured annually on Friday and Saturday of the Joint Annual Conference. The award presentation was made during the secretaries’ program on Friday and again at the Third General Session on Sunday, November 23, 2014.

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